In many respects, this defeat was more galling than the loss at Tottenham but, the attitude and lack of concentration of the players aside, once again we are talking about another goalkeeping error turning a game and costing points. It has become a major issue this season and is one that Arsene Wenger surely has to deal with in the summer. Manuel Almunia’s form has been patchy to say the least but he creates nothing of the nervousness and dread that fills Arsenal supporters when they hear Lukasz Fabianski’s name on the teamsheet at the moment.
Fabianski has had a wretched season. For the first few months of it he was sidelined with injury and, once fit, his rare appearances have been blighted by errors that have led to too many goals conceded. Back in January in the FA Cup match against Stoke he completely failed to dominate his area during a Rory Delap throw allowing Ricardo Fuller in to score within two minutes. February saw his catastrophic appearance against Porto in the Champions League where he threw in an own goal to give Porto the lead and, in the second half, picked up a Sol Campbell backpass and then tossed the ball to the referee to gift the Portugese a second goal. Sunday saw him drop a straight-forward catch from a corner to allow Titus Bramble a rare strike. Considering he has only played seven matches this season, that is quite a collection of mistakes.
On leaving the pitch at the DW Stadium at the end of Sunday’s game, his confidence looked shot to pieces and many predicted that might be the last we saw of him in an Arsenal shirt. And yet, yesterday, Arsene Wenger came out in full support of the Polish keeper saying, “He is a top-class goalkeeper. I repeat that many times and you will see that one day, I am right."
On the face of it, that is a staggering comment bearing in mind that the blunders committed by the Pole are not confined to this season’s appearances. But, in another respect, isn’t that the sort of statement that we simultaneously love and hate Arsene Wenger for?
We ought to love that he always backs his players in the face of all adversity and, so many times in the past, when they have come in for criticism from both the fans and the media, he has indeed been proved right. For example, a couple of years ago, Wenger was probably the only person in the known universe championing the cause of Alex Song, apart from possibly Alex Song’s mum. Here were are a couple of years on, and for many fans he is now one of the first names on the teamsheet after Cesc Fabregas.
However, in the case of Fabianski, we cannot help but hate the fact that the manager can be so horribly stubborn and seemingly in denial about a player who may well turn out to be half-decent in time but, at the moment, has no right to be in contention for a place in the Arsenal team. It is one thing to keep faith with Song - who, back then, appeared to be a very average player with a lazy streak - but maintaining belief in a goalkeeper who makes as many mistakes as the Pole is quite a different matter. Midfielders can get away with the odd misplaced pass and getting caught out of position. Goalkeepers are not so lucky and their errors are punished ruthlessly, particularly in the Premier League.
Wenger tells us that Fabianski will come good one day but can we afford to wait for that day to come? The answer is "no" and it is my hunch that, despite his comments, the manager knows it too. However, he also knows that if he leaves the Pole out in the cold so close to the summer transfer window, then he is hardly making him an attractive prospect to clubs who might potentially take him off our hands.
With Manuel Almunia still injured, it looks as if Fabianski will feature in the team that starts against Manchester City on Saturday (and possibly in the games beyond that too). It is a prospect that will worry Arsenal supporters going into the biggest of the remaining fixtures. It really has come down to keeping our fingers crossed that he has a good day and will start showing some of the promise that Wenger claims he has.
The Gunners need a couple more wins to be absolutely sure of finishing third and, even though there are no trophies at stake, the match against City remains a huge one due to the presence of Emmanuel Adebayor. The Ashburton Grove fans have been waiting a long time for the moment to truly tell him what they think of him regarding both the way he left the club and the way he behaved in the corresponding match at Eastlands earlier in the season.
Already Kolo Toure and Roberto Mancini have implored Adebayor to show more intelligence during Saturday’s encounter. This, however, presupposes that he actually has any sort of intelligence in the first place. What is going to be screamingly obvious though, even to a man as delusional as him, will be the contrast in the reception that Patrick Vieira and Kolo Toure get compared with what is waiting for the former Togo international. The aforementioned two players have true class and contributed to some memorable trophy-winning seasons at Arsenal. They have not been forgotten by the fans. Adebayor has not been forgotten either – but for entirely different reasons.
That sideshow aside, this is a match that the Gunners need to win. Coming into the game off the back of two chastening defeats and, with just the slight prospect of Alex Song being the only player to return from injury, the team are hardly going into the game on a crest of a wave - though maybe we will see a bit more of Robin Van Persie. But thanks to the presence of Adebayor, the atmosphere should be pretty hot and, hopefully, that will inspire our players back to winning ways.
What really should be their motivation though is atoning for their embarrassing lack of professionalism at Wigan last week and making sure it is not repeated.